By Mike Strathdee
As Printed in The Marketplace – March/April 2018
It was not surprising to see recently, a major Christian magazine asking in a cover story whether the gift of cash (instead of material items or programs) would help alleviate poverty issues, as suggested by some experts on the issue. It is not surprising because the matter of poverty has been one that our society has sought to get rid of since man began to populate the earth.
We live in an age where most people enjoy a better standard of living than their ancestors. Much of this has been due to positive developments in technology, communication, production and infrastructure. It would be fair to say that the attention paid to eradicating poverty by both faith-based and secular organizations is higher today than it has ever been. And yet our efforts are often compromised by things that are largely out of our hands. These effects can range from geo-political struggles to natural disasters. What has become apparent through it all, is that to continue to gain ground on this epidemic, organizations need to be innovative with their approaches.
That is exactly what Leila Janah, CEO of Samasource (a non-profit business with the mission to reduce global poverty by outsourcing digital work to unemployed people in the United States and impoverished countries), has done in her efforts to bring a marketplace solution to help alleviate global poverty.
In Give Work, she lays out a creative way to utilize a global workforce to accomplish many repetitive tasks that organizations and/or corporations would usually do themselves (or outsource closer to home). Her goal is to integrate the business-oriented, profit-maximizing part of our psyche with our socially conscious, compassionate heart. She does this by taking advantage of the disruption of the labor market in many sectors of business, and utilizing technology in communication flow to establish work teams in impoverished areas. Through these efforts, she creates win-win situations for both company and worker. The company’s cost of labor goes down while the worker, formerly in poverty, is now a stakeholder making a living wage.
Janah should be credited with not only laying out an effective strategy to eliminate poverty, but also for using her own business acumen to put these plans into action. Give Work provides a dynamic storyline about how she grew up in an immigrant family. Her childhood development and what she witnessed helped create the perseverance that would lead to her leadership roles in the business and humanitarian aid communities.
What is refreshing about Janah’s approach is that her solutions are based upon marketplace results. She creates opportunities for everyone to benefit. There are no so-called “handouts” in her method. Workers have a dignified way to rise above poverty levels. Companies in turn have a dedicated and effective workforce. Walmart and Johnson & Johnson are just two of the economic heavyweights that have utilized her methodology. As a Harvard-educated former management consultant, Janah is using real-world scenarios to make her case.
Janah’s book is a must read for all corporate leaders focused on making a difference. She lays the groundwork for what should be an easy way for business to lead the charge in getting rid of extreme poverty. She makes the case that her ideas are applicable to the world we live in, but do not necessarily represent the “one” fix to end all poverty. As the season of business changes, new ideas for battling this epidemic must change as well. It is her innovative approach to this issue that makes it an effective answer today. ◆
Romney Ruder is an associate professor of business administration at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.